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EU Commission Calls For Start Of North Macedonia, Albania Accession Talks

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn praised North Macedonia for changing its name and hailed Albania's reforms of its justice system.

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has recommended the launch of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible, saying the two Balkan countries have "delivered on reforms."

The May 29 recommendation was part of an annual report by the EU's executive on the progress of six membership hopefuls, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, and Turkey, toward meeting EU requirements.

Speaking in Brussels, Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn praised North Macedonia for changing its name earlier this year. The move ended a decades-long dispute with Greece that had blocked the Balkan state's path to NATO and the EU.

Hahn also hailed Albania's reforms of its justice system.

The commissioner said that EU states should open accession negotiations "now" with both countries. "To remain credible, the EU must stick to its commitments and respond clearly and positively when countries fulfil theirs," he added.

EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the matter in Luxembourg on June 18, but diplomatic sources told RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity that member states were deeply divided on the issue.

France and the Netherlands are said to remain reluctant to give the green light to accession talks by the end of the year, but could potentially allow negotiations with North Macedonia to go ahead.

However, Italy strictly opposes such an option.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini warned the bloc's member states that "failure to recognize and respond to objective progress would damage the European Union's credibility" and could "undermine stability and seriously discourage further reforms."

In its report, the European Commission refrained from recommending that Bosnia get the status as an EU candidate country.

The EU's member states "will now need to decide on the next steps for the country. In this regard, it will be key that governments are formed at all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina without any further delay," Hahn said.

The commissioner said that Montenegro and Serbia, which have started EU accession negotiations, "are yet to act with greater determination and substantially increased efforts in crucial areas."

"The countries urgently need to implement reforms in the rule-of-law area more strongly and credibly," Hahn said.

The commission urged Kosovo, a potential candidate country whose independence remains unrecognized by five EU members, to revoke tariffs it imposed on Serbian and Bosnian goods late last year.

It also called on Kosovar leaders to "put the political focus back on advancing on its European path."

Hahn reiterated that accession talks with Turkey were at a standstill, saying the country "continued to move further away from the European Union with continued serious backsliding in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights."

With reporting by AP
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.